With age, there comes a natural softening. Genetics, environment, health and biology all play into it. It’s as predictable as the 200 billion dollar industry lobbying for shelf space in drug stores across the country - all prescribed to combat the signs of aging. Gel for the eyes, toner for the skin, oil for the hair, salt for the feet. It’s all designed to keep us in the moment. To keep us from moving beyond This Moment of comfort for as long as we can. As modern science works to preserve us on the outside, wisdom and experience shape the evolution of our character from the inside.
This week, I’ve been thinking about this softening in a different way. In terms of letting go of hubris and redefining pride. Taking back what’s mine. Embracing the doors that open up when walls are eased down. I’m thinking about the kind of metamorphosis that begins when resignation ends. Rediscovering the kind of vulnerability that keeps us present in the moment, open to the risk. Open to wonder.
Historically, I am not a grudge holder. I find that they generally require a level of emotional commitment and focus for which my long-term memory is not equipped. I can barely remember to apply deodorant and pay bills on time that it’s nearly impossible for me to comprehend the level of devotion it might require to strategically and thoughtfully carry around a sack of stones symbolizing and calculating the weight of people whose behavior did not live up to my expectations.
It takes vigilance to hold onto feelings of hurt, anger and resentment. It’s a conscious choice to keep this collection of memories close, to thrust your hand in the keepsake box years later and feel the familiar cut, see the same blood and experience the same ache. Without this proximity and this carefully curated moratorium on hurt, we risk forgetting. We risk softening. We risk unintentional forgiveness, which is arguably the most terrifying outcome of all.
On New Years Eve, I saw him for the first time since that fateful, rainy afternoon on the porch. I left a piece of myself there that day. The trust and the hope and the faith in the existence of a good man drained from my body, slowly and mercilessly. Instead of applying pressure and attention to the trauma caused by his hands, he reached across the table and tore me open further. Allowed me to bleed out faster.
I carried that day and that feeling of profound hurt for nearly two years and then it erupted like a party favor in a corner bar as the clock struck midnight 2013 and for a fleeting moment I felt vindicated. I raised my voice and pointed my finger and waved my arms wildly and gathered up every last piece of rubble he left behind and thrust it back at him. Heaped it on him as a reminder of the lies he told and the truth he twisted and the devastation he caused without even blinking. Words like acid poured out of my mouth, hoping to find any open wound to sting. He tried to counter, asked me to lower my voice, made an effort to shame my outburst into submission, which only made my legs kick harder and my tenor grow louder.
I drove him away, high on endorphins and drunk on beer and fell into the arms of the friends who had been orchestrating the scene all night long, encouraging this crescendo of closure for months. We all sighed, but I didn’t feel better about any of it. I didn’t feel stronger or more righteous. I felt empty – figuratively and literally. And the symbolism wasn’t immediately realized, but this was the first sign of hope and healing. All the pent up rage and rotting ambivalence and self-sabotaging pity was finally outside of me. Like the dizzying calm after a long night of influenza. I was systematically empty and more whole than I had been in years.
Bad blood is poisonous. It gets into your veins and creates all sorts of complications not otherwise diagnosed by medical professionals. It hardens your heart and drowns your faith. If left untreated, it causes irreparable damage, like emotional gangrene. And despite all the toxicity and shrapnel he left behind, I finally had this epiphany: even a meal of rotten food is still filling.
For years, I kept him alive. I kept all the unpleasant memories close because it was something to push against and something to feel besides empty. And I have used him as a convenient excuse to sit on the sideline and keep an arm’s length and cowardly retreat when the potential for new risks were placed at my feet. He made the first cut, but I continued to pick at the stiches and then question why it still ached.
It’s easy to be hard. Real intimacy and connection is a gamble. Vulnerability opens you up to disappointment and you can actually live indefinitely in the gulf of ambivalence. You can find humor and happiness. You can have conversations about today that aren’t tied to tomorrow. You can risk nothing and gain nothing and it’s a safe and not altogether unsound place to spend your life.
But one day when you least expect it, when your guard is down, your heart is unarmored and your inbox unfiltered, potential slips inside, into the quiet, soft space where hope lives. And you wonder why you ever waited so long.